Aleppo evacuation in turmoil as Russia says ‘liberation’ of rebel-held areas is complete

Security source tells news agency that militants had obstructed the agreement with reports of blasts near column of buses leaving city

Families are evacuated from Aleppo on 15 December 2016

Syria’s government said the evacuation of Aleppo had been suspended on Friday due to “obstructions”, after reports of an attack on a column leaving the rebel-held area of the city.

“The evacuation operation has been suspended because the militants failed to respect the conditions of the agreement,” a security source told the AFP news agency.

LIVE UPDATES: Aleppo evacuation

Hezbollah, the Lebanese ally of Syria’s government, said protesters had also blocked a road out of eastern Aleppo, demanding the simultaneous evacuation of Foua and Kefreya, two villages in the Idlib countryside blockaded by rebel groups.

Later, a Syrian rebel source said Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as Nusra Front), would let injured people out of the besieged Shi’ite villages as early as today, Reuters reported.

“If the evacuation of the injured in Kefraya and al-Foua takes place, the operation to evacuate eastern Aleppo will resume immediately,” a Syrian official said in comments reported by the agency.

Rebel fighters oversee evacuation of civilians from east Aleppo on 15 December

Syria’s state TV channel Ikhbariya meanwhile said rebels had sought to take prisoners with them in the evacuation, which it said was a breach of the deal.

Reuters reported blasts had been heard at a location where buses were leaving eastern Aleppo. A witness told the news agency they had heard at least four explosions.

An AFP correspondent reported hearing gunfire and blasts in Ramussa, the government-held neighbourhood that evacuees had been passing through, and said buses and ambulances waiting to collect residents had left empty.

Later, Reuters reported that one convoy of buses and other vehicles had turned back towards eastern Aleppo, leaving refugees stranded on a bridge at the Ramousah road junction amid bitter temperatures.

Robert Mardini, regional head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, confirmed that the operation was suspended, adding: “We urge the parties to ensure it can be relaunched and proceed in the right conditions.”

Meanwhile some local Syrian media outlets reported that Iranian militias had hijacked approximately 20 private cars that were part of the evacuation and en route to the countryside west of Aleppo.

Middle East Eye cannot independently verify these reports.

عاجل | مصدر عسكري من الثوار لـ : ميلشيات إيرانية تحتجز أكثر من 20 سيارة يستقلها مدنيون وجرحى كانت متجهة من إلى ريفها الغربي

Translation: Rebel source: Iran militias have hijacked 20 cars on their way to west #Aleppo countryside

Putin talks national ceasefire

Meanwhile the Russian military said on Friday that the Syrian army was in the process of clearing the last anti-government fighters from Aleppo, declaring the operation to take control of the city complete.

“The Syrian army’s operation to liberate rebel-controlled eastern Aleppo neighbourhoods is complete. Syrian government troops are liquidating the radicals’ last pockets of resistance,” the defence ministry said in a statement.

Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he planned a “national ceasefire” in Syria and new international talks.

READ: In Aleppo, fleeing residents leave graffiti for Assad

“The next step will be to reach agreement on a complete ceasefire across all of Syria,” he said while on an official visit to Japan.

“We are actively negotiating with members of the armed opposition, with the mediation of Turkey.”

Putin said he had agreed with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to hold peace talks on Syria in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana.

Local media have reported that under the deal Turkey would provide a safe corridor for any armed group prepared to lay down their arms. Moscow and Ankara would support the unity of Syria while taking joint action against “terrorist groups”.

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Putin had told Ankara that any fresh talks in Kazakhstan would be complementary to the peace efforts in Geneva. Cavusoglu added that Ankara would not directly speak with representatives of the Syrian government.

Before the evacuations were suspended, Russia’s defence ministry said more than 6,400 people, including more than 3,000 rebels, had been evacuated during the past 24 hours under a ceasefire deal.

A young girl pictured at the transfer centre in eastern Aleppo for those trying to leave the besieged area

The UN Security Council is due to discuss Aleppo on Friday at the request of France, which is calling for international observers to be sent as monitors.

Turkey estimated the number to be nearer 8,000. The Turkish foreign minister said on Twitter that more than 7,000 civilians had been evacuated in the first five convoys.

Turkey said it had identified two sites on the Syrian side of the border for two refugee camps to house up to 80,000 people.

Kerry: Events in Aleppo ‘unconscionable’

The evacuations began on Thursday under a ceasefire deal brokered by Turkey and Russia that would end years of fighting in the city and mark a major victory for the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian president on Thursday described the Aleppo evacuations as “history in the making”.

“What is happening today is the writing of a history written by every Syrian citizen. The writing did not start today, it started six years ago when the crisis and war started against Syria,” Assad said in a video posted on Twitter.

READ: US journalist in Aleppo ran for his life as bombs fell after MEE interview

“The people of Aleppo made history with their steadfastness, bravery and sacrifice,” he continued, “and every Syrian stood with the people of Aleppo and their homeland.”

“I think that after the liberation of Aleppo we’ll talk about the situation as… before the liberation of Aleppo and after the liberation of Aleppo.”

Russian lieutenant general Viktor Poznikhir, meanwhile, told the Tass news agency that all rebels had left the city.

“The militants have been driven out of all the quarters that remained under their control as a result of the Syrian troops’ offensive,” he said.

A convoy of buses snakes its way out from the rubble of Aleppo on 15 December

Russia said the evacuation would be “swift” and promised that no harm would come to anyone who was leaving, according to UN humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland.

But US Secretary of State John Kerry said what had already happened in the city was “unconscionable”, raising concern for the “tens of thousands of lives that are now concentrated into a very small area of Aleppo”.

“And the last thing anybody wants to see… is that that small area turns into another Srebrenica,” he said, referring to a 1995 Bosnian war massacre.

(Source / 16.12.2016)


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